From Moss Motoring 1985
When Rick Green called me from St Louis and told me that he had purchased an MG while in California, I thought that was great. ‘Hey, Rick, let me drive it out to St Louis, I’ve never been to that part of the country.’ It took a while to convince him that I was serious, but he finally agreed. The car was a 1974 MGB-GT, and Rick said that it was in good shape, though it had been sitting awhile. We made plans for me to pick up the car in Palm Springs, California one weekend. I would use it in the Los Angeles area for a few days, and then a friend and I would drive it to St Louis. From St. Louis we were going to go on to Chicago and then Detroit ‘What a wonderful opportunity,’ I thought I’ve never been to any of those places, and if I plan the trip right, I’ll even get to do some sightseeing.’
Sure I would.
The first sign of what the trip would be like came before I had even left San Francisco. Rick called me at work the day before I was to leave and said that the people who had the car now couldn’t get it started, and we might have a change in plans. I still thought that was great, but it wasn’t the same sort of great as before. Rick called later in the day, though, and said that the car had been towed to a shop. There they had got it to start and were going to give it a complete tune-up and four new tires. Alright! We’re back to the original meaning of ‘Great!’
The next morning I flew to Palm Springs and was met by Ray, Rick’s friend, who was going to take me over to where the car was. On the way, Ray filled me in on the car’s history. The previous owner had not taken very good care of it, in Ray’s opinion. He said things that broke were not repaired but the car ran without them. The final straw was when the motor blew up—the owner had never checked the oil! After a new short block was installed, the car had just sat for the past two years, and only had recently been brought back to life. Not to worry, I thought, its been tuned and has new tires. It’ll be just fine.
When we got to the car, I got in to start it and almost fell into what passes for a backseat in a B-GT. The seatback was broken. Once I finally got the car started, I found that it had no electrics besides ignition. Ray asked if I wanted to stop at his place to check over the car before I left for LA (approximately 100 miles away). Why, yes, Ray, I think that would be a wonderful idea. Back to the second meaning of ‘Great’.
We eventually got most of the electrics working by cleaning up the terminals in the fuse block. We also discovered that the car had not been tuned, and had only two new tires. Ray noticed that it had no wiper blades while he was cleaning the windows—that explained the big circular scratches on the screen. We found a few other things, but nothing that seemed important. So after filling up, I headed for LA.
Naturally it began to rain about 20 miles out of Palm Springs. After calculating my chances of finding MGB wiper blades in the middle of the desert (You want blades how short?? Ha ha ha!!), I decided to keep going. Finally, the rain let up and I started to unwind. The car wasn’t so bad after all. The overdrive worked, the radio worked, nothing seemed to leak, the motor was strong. Great as in good again! Wait a minute—why is it starting to slow down? Oh-oh, it’s missing. Pull over and yank the plug wires to find the offending cylinder. Number two wire practically falls off. No wonder—it’s broken. After briefly surveying the desert, I shoved it back and taped it down. There! The miss is much less now. Back on the road again!
I thought I was home free when I got to LA. I figured I’d be at my friend Greg’s place in another twenty minutes. Wrong. The miss came back. Another plug wire bit the dust, but with more tape and a little crimping it ran well enough to keep up with traffic. Well, at least with the traffic in the bike lane. When I finally got to Greg’s he had to help me get up the driveway by pushing the car. ‘We’re going where in this?’ he asked. ‘The guy letting you drive this car is your friend?’
‘Yeah. The car is a little rougher than I thought it would be, that’s all. We can work on it tomorrow. Lets go do something else tonight’.
As Sunday morning came around, so did we. ‘Something else’ always seems to take a long time when you do it Saturday night But we soon remembered the MG. (‘What s that blue car doing here? Oh, I remember.’) The first objective was to get the electrics sorted out and give it a tune up.
‘Where’s the nearest import car parts house, Greg?’
‘How should I know? All I’ve ever owned are Chryslers. Lets check the phonebook.’ Good idea. Except that the first two places listed as ‘Open Sunday’ weren’t. But third time’s a charm, and number three was not only open but said they had the pieces. Great again!
We showed up, and they started to pull boxes. I opened the distributor cap box while we were waiting. Oh, no. ‘Greg, check this out.’
‘I didn’t know the car was a C.’
‘It isn’t. Oh, uh, ma’am, we’ve got a problem here…’ The lady was adamant about it-she said her book showed that this was the correct cap for the car, never mind that the cap had six lugs on it I told her that I’d counted the cylinders but it didn’t do any good. The next place had the right parts, though, so we were finally set – Tune up pieces, wiper blades, duct tape, fuses and wire. We disregarded the counterman’s suggestion to bring a spare car and headed back to start work.
We decided to work on the MG at Greg’s folks’ place, since they had a bigger garage. Greg followed me over and when we got there he was almost dying of laughter. ‘You ought to see those wheels!’ he said, ‘They wobble like something off a circus clown’s trike!’ A quick inspection showed that the left front and right rear had once done duty scraping curbs clean. The right rear was so bad that the UNDO on the knockoff was obliterated.
‘No problem. We’ll just get a wheel from a boneyard and use the spare. Let’s fix the lights and tune it’. Tuning it went easily-the car wasn’t that far up the evolutionary ladder from my MGA. The speedometer wasn’t connected-now that it was, maybe it’d work. The lights were more of a problem. The car was evidently one of those that was made with slow-burning fuses instead of wire in part of the harness, judging from the melted streaks running from the firewall to the taillights. Rewiring it took most of the afternoon. We were finally ready to drive it back to Greg’s at dusk. Click. Buzz. Why won’t it start now?
We got the meter back out and started to trace wires. (Did I mention that we had to go buy a meter to fix the lights? None of Greg’s cars had ever had electrical problems.) Ah-ha! Voltage to starter relay, but not from starter relay! Problem identified. Let’s push-start this thing and go get some gasoline.
The trip to the gas station revealed that the speedo was still on vacation and that the turn signals were a sometimes thing. We decided to fix the signals tomorrow (optimists, eh?) and clock the car using Greg”s truck and the tach. In fourth overdrive, 55 mph turned out to be 2500 rpm. Remember that.
Monday went much more smoothly. We found a wheel in the second wrecking yard we tried, got new air filters at the third parts store and a starter relay at the fourth. No, we weren’t spreading the wealth, it was just that nobody had everything we needed. The turn signals were more of a problem. We traced it to the hazard switch (aptly named, that) but couldn’t rectify it (We learned how after the trip.) But everything was finished by evening. All that remained was for us to go out and buy our supplies for the next three days. Let’s see; a case of soda pop, an ice chest, Oreos, Ritz Crackers and, for nutrition, a box of granola bars. All set! Great again!
We set out at about 6 a. m. on Tuesday. The whole day was blessedly uneventful The car ran well, started every time we turned the key, and never even hinted at overheating. Evening was a little different. We had decided to stop for the night in Albuquerque, but the MG decided to stop for the night just outside of Albuquerque. ‘What’s going on?’
‘We’re out of gas. The gauge reads nearly a quarter of a tank, too.’
‘I think the gauge was made in England.’
So it was. But Albuquerque is situated in the bottom of a large valley, and we were able to coast over a mile into town, off the interstate, past a yield sign, through a green light and into a gas station! We were so happy that we didn’t have to walk. There was even a motel across the street from the station. Great! After filling up we drove across the street, got out…. and noticed a trail behind the car.
It was gasoline again. Great again. This was the first time I really noticed that the carbs didn’t have external float bowls. But we still banged away on the carbs, hoping to free the sticking float. No luck. We ended up disassembling the front carb, cleaning it out, and putting it back together in the parking lot by flashlight. And then, while running the engine to test for leaks, we noticed that the fan was loose. Correction-the water pump bushing was going away. At least the carb didn’t leak. I now remembered Rick’s warning to not break down in New Mexico, because there were no NAM-GAR members there. Land of Enchantment indeed.
The carb still wasn’t leaking Wednesday morning but that didn’t matter much to us, since we got to go through the other carb after breakfast. At least there was plenty of light in McDonald’s parking lot. Got some coolant system goo, poured it in, and finally took off at about ten o’clock.
Once we were on the road things went smoothly. Actually, they were going too smoothly and we were getting bored. Excitement (or poor judgement) finally showed up in the form of a bright red 280 ZX that passed us at some incredible rate of knots. ‘Hey, let’s follow him! He has a radar detector!’ Great! We took off in pursuit for what turned out to be the high point of the trip-highest water temperature recorded (“N,” whatever that meant), highest engine speed (4700 rpm in OD) and highest anxiety level, because we followed this guy for 37 miles across Texas and into Oklahoma. We finally had to stop for gas and lost him. (He was probably in a hurry to get home so he could drive his MG.) When we figured out later how fast we’d been traveling, we were amazed. We stopped in Oklahoma City that night without any more adventures.
Thursday was easy after all this. The water pump never made good on its threat to spit the fan into the radiator, and the only problem we had was a broken heater hose clamp in Joplin, Missouri. We found Rick’s house in St Louis easily, even in the rush hour traffic. Great! We made it! Knock on the door-no answer. Knock harder-noises within. Rick answers the door and the first thing he says is ‘You guys woke me up.’ How about Hello or Congratulations?! Once he woke up, he was glad to see us.
The rest of the week was more driving, but not in an MG. Rick took Greg & me to Chicago, Grand Rapids and Detroit. We got to meet a lot of NAM-GAR people that weren’t able to come to GT-9. I was especially glad to finally meet Rob Mackenzie, since we had been writing back and forth for a long time. (I also know now why they’re called the Michigan Rowdies. But I digress.) When it was finally time to get on the plane to go home, I was seriously thinking of trying to get an MG to drive back. (That’s turning into another story.) It was a fantastic trip and I’m already looking forward to driving back for GT-10. But I’m still amazed about a couple of things-that the car did not use a drop of oil over the entire 1800 miles, and that I actually tried so hard to convince Rick to let me drive it out!
By Mike Jacobsen of San Francisco